Happy February! So much to acknowledge this month. And most of it is focused on the heart.
First up: February is considered to be Heart Health Month. And there’s lots to focus on when it comes to cardiovascular health, especially for women. Did you know heart disease is more deadly than breast cancer? In fact, it kills more women each year than ALL cancers combined. And yet, how many of us really understand the risk factors, how to lower our risks and what to watch for if we are experiencing some symptoms.
We have to stop ignoring the fact that women and heart disease is rampant and often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed until it’s too late. And as women we need to stop ignoring the signs that we may have a cardiac issue.
This is a big subject and I’ve got a juicy blog post underway that will run a little later in the month and provide some answers to these important concerns.
Next up: St. Valentine’s Day – my least favourite made-up ‘holiday.’
Why? For two reasons. First because of the false premise that if you don’t participate in some grand romantic gesture with your partner – or if you do not have a partner and fly solo – you’re some kind of loser in love.
Yuk! And damnation.
Call me a curmudgeon but I don’t find this ‘holiday’ to have many redeeming qualities. If there’s someone in your life, big or small, young or old, that you’d like to express love for, then you best be doing it 365 days a year and not just on this Hallmark holiday, named for one of three potential martyred individuals from the murky past, all of whom – judging from the stories collected – were all vaguely misogynistic.
But I digress.
The other reason I dislike Valentine’s as a holiday is it again seems to promote carte blanche to gobble sugar and chocolate (not unlike Halloween. And Easter).
I have nothing against the occasional sweet treat but make it count. Pick something that is not just a heart-shaped box of diabesity and other chronic health concerns. Ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, artificial sweeteners, fruit sugars, sugar alcohols, cane sugars, maltitol, raw sugar predominate. While some of those may sound healthy (after all, the word ‘fruit’ was in there somewhere! And isn’t the ‘raw diet’ a thing??) – you may want to check out my blog post on food marketing and how things aren’t always what they seem.
Sugar is NOT your friend
The most recent stats available on sugar consumption date back to 2014 and report that Canadians eat about 88 pounds of sugar each year! Factor in the average weight of a North American woman to be about 177 lbs and we’re eating about half our weight in sugar over the course of a year!
Whoa. Picture that and take a breath.
Even the 2019 Canadian Food Guide (CFG) has paid attention and come out swinging against sugar for the first time ever because of its link to dental decay and type 2 diabetes among other concerns. Sure, the CFG has its misses but it also has its hits and in this respect, the recommended restrictions on sugar are spot on.
While excess sugar consumption is associated with myriad health conditions, I want to just circle back here and focus on its connection to heart health.
Here’s the heart-breaking truth: excess sugar consumption raises the risk of heart disease as well as increasing mortality from it.
According to Harvard Health, sugar increases inflammation in the body as well as raises blood pressure. Both can weaken blood vessels and have negative consequences on the health of your heart by making it work harder.
Additionally, through another metabolic pathway, excess sugars are converted to fat by the liver and when the liver is working less efficiently at removing waste and by-products, you’re more likely to experience hardening of the arteries over time and blood clots.
Having said that, you don’t have to swear off sweet chocolate indulgences at this time of year or at any time. Instead, make smarter choices when it comes to indulgences – and YES, this is possible and doable!
Enter heart-healthier dark chocolate
Raw cacao is relatively unprocessed (as compared to Dutch processing) and therefore preserves the key nutrients that exist in the cacao plant. For example, magnesium, iron, protein, fibre and a massive amount of antioxidants that are critical to the absorption of free radicals (linked to cell and tissue damage that may cause cancer or heart disease) in the body. In fact, gram for gram, according to its ORAC score, which measures the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity of a food, raw cacao has 40X the antioxidant power of blueberries – and we know what a superfood blueberries are, right?
So how do you maximize the health promoting properties of chocolate? When choosing chocolate for snacking or creating treats, try going for as dark as possible – at least 70% or higher. Try it in smoothies. Try snacking on cacao nibs. Try stirring raw cacao powder into your morning oats or pancakes. Make your own homemade dark chocolate bark studded with goji berries and pepitas, or cacao fat bombs, or dark and delicious truffles.
If you truly insist on celebrating Valentine’s Day with chocolate – avoid that store-bought sugar assault and try my Dark Chocolate Yertles recipe below. They are quick, delicious and will not hurt your Honey’s heart.
Recipe: Dark Chocolate Yertles
- 1 cup Pitted Dates (soaked for 10 minutes, then drained)
- 1/4 cup Pecans (whole or halves)
- 3 1/2 ozs Dark Organic Chocolate
- Finely chop the dates or blend in a food processor until sticky.
- With damp hands, roll the dates into small even balls. Press the balls onto a pan lined with parchment paper, and top with pecans, pressing down slightly so that they stick. Freeze for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, microwave the chocolate at 50% power for 30 seconds at a time until melted.
- Using a fork, suspend the frozen dates into the chocolate until fully covered. Remove and let the excess chocolate drip off. Return to the parchment-lined pan and repeat until each date ball is coated with the chocolate.
- Return to freezer for 10 more minutes to set. Transfer to the fridge until ready to enjoy.